Rhik Samadder tests takeaway
Pizza comes into its own when it arrives ready-made at your door. But our takeout taste test reveals abundant ways for the big cheeses of the convenience pizza circuit to sink or swim (in grease). Yes, ‘integrity of slice’ is a thing ...
The night begins by falling apart. Together with some friends, I’ve arranged a pizza-tasting competition/ housewarming for my friend Alex, who’s moved into a brand new flat in Brixton. However, the door buzzer doesn’t work and the internet hasn’t been installed, so I’m ordering pizzas through glitchy phone apps, which insist I choose an address from a menu of postcode-based options, none of which are where we are. “The building isn’t on the land registry yet, so it doesn’t exist,” admits Alex.
Alice runs out of the house to look for pizza, defeating the point of a delivery night, but also saving the day. I start making calls, debit card in hand. In contention tonight are the ubiquitous Dominos, upstarts Firezza, small-scale chain Pizza GoGo, and Pizza King. Alice returns with boxes from collection-only favourites Franco Manca, and a local spot called Pizza Box, which she describes as “a strip-lit nightmare”. We’re in business.
Pizza King and Pizza GoGo arrive first, shortly followed by Dominos and Firezza. Dominos Pepperoni Passion is an immediate draw, described as “exactly what you want in a takeaway” – huge, thick with topping, and that particular crust, crispy then pillowy. Pizza GoGo’s “Alligator Pizza” on the other hand, is fascinating for all the wrong reasons. “It looks like a Lego pizza,” says Peter. The curled ham discs and acres of crust attract no one. The Veg Special from Pizza Box is generously topped, if heavy on the sweetcorn and onion, overpowering the other flavours. Opinion sharply divides on Pizza King’s meatball and jalapeno effort, ultra spicy with balls of what looks like kebab meat sitting on it. They’re too oily for some; but Jess detects “hints of Chinese five spice”, and the slices go down undeniably fast.
Time for a bit of posh. Franco Manca’s wood-fired, slow-risen sourdough base is a touchstone for pizza connoisseurs, while Firezza’s unusual toppings and rectangular half metre pizzas are renowned for quality. Indeed, their white pizza with mixed wild mushrooms, truffle cream and tarragon is expensive but exquisite, and the only entry that completely disappears. It’s an entirely different proposition to a Dominos. “Firezza when you’re sober, Pizza Box when you’re drunk, Dominos when you’re hungover,” Alex theorises, eating on the floor because there’s no furniture.
In the upset of the night, Franco Manca disappoints. It arrives cold, the pizza is unsegmented, and the Gloucester ham and Buffalo ricotta toppings slide around when we attempt to tear it. That leopard print charred, tangy crust is usually joyful; eaten cold, it loses a lot of its magic. A bitter debate springs up. Alice mounts a strong defence – it’s not a sharing meal, and meant to be eaten immediately with oils and vinegars at the restaurant table. Plus she had to collect, so she’s sort of the delivery guy on this one. A compromise is reached – we select some pizzas, to see which takes reheating best.
Meanwhile, we agree on judging criteria for the pizzas. Crust, topping, and the ratio between the two. Cathy stridently nominates greasiness as a category, as well as topping distribution and slice segmentation. She didn’t come here to play.
Pizza King and Pizza Box find themselves matched across most categories in the middle of the table – the Veg Special let down by an undercooked base, while the Pizza King suffers integrity-of-slice issues. “We’ve a slight snowball-meatball effect,” says Jess, as kebab-y orbs roll on to her designer dress.
There are disagreements. Firezza scores highly for greasiness, but “it’s the good greasiness, like truffle oil”. Toppings and segmentation cannot be treated as evenly weighted categories. A sweet, bready crust is nice for people who like bread, anathema to others. Pizza Box is praised for being “dirty, but honest about it.”
The Dominos is a unique case: its herb dip, addictive crust and “creepily
uniform distribution” are universally seductive, yet not trusted. There are integrity issues, in every sense. The slices rip halfway, the cheese somehow stronger than the base. This doesn’t dent its popularity any more than the discussion of how Dominos stocks outperform Google, or its founders have staunch Republican values. Alice notes that the semolina dusting lends an appealing extra texture. “It’s there to mop up grease,” says Cathy sadly, reaching for another slice.
At the other end of the popularity scale is Pizza GoGo, and it’s time someone tried it. Described as medium but already very small, the pizza shrinks further on reheating, like a jumper in a hot wash, and at £13, feels rather steep.
Alex jumps in, and recoils from the plastic cheese. It stinks, he says. “It looked old when it turned up,” agrees Alice. It scores a zero for topping, 2 for crust.
Franco Manca reclaims some lost support in the reheat, but not enough to catch up to Firezza and Dominos. Cathy proposes a new category: regret. A number approximating any guilt felt after eating, deducted from each overall score. Dominos takes a big hit: finishing on 32.5 points, ceding the crown to Firezza’s 35. Pizza King and Pizza Box finish on 20 and 21 points respectively, while Pizza GoGo’s full house of regret wipes out the 10 points it had built up, finishing with a net score of zero. The nearly guilt-free Franco Manca ends on 25.5 which everyone agrees is too low, because it really is good pizza.
The contest is over. Before us, the discarded remains are buried in cardboard graves. Greasy fingers splay on the floor as we lie back, sated, discussing what a miracle mozzarella can be. We’ve slightly ruined Alex’s new house, but it doesn’t really exist anyway, so that’s fine. Viva pizza!